Golden-crowned sparrows (Zonotrichia atricapilla) winter along the Pacific Coast and spend summers on the tundra and in shrublands from British Columbia to Alaska. Even though we are located further inland, their bright yellow heads brighten our winter landscape. Soon they will be leaving for their northern breeding grounds.

Recently, while reading about golden-crowned sparrows, I learned a new word: zugunruhe. Derived from the German words “zug” and “unruhe” meaning “move” and “restlessness” respectively, zugunruhe refers to migratory restlessness. Several researchers use golden-crowned sparrows (and many other species) to study this phenomenon.

When confined, migratory animals, especially birds, exhibit anxious behavior during their normal migrating period. This “anxiety” is believed to be a behavioral manifestation of physiological changes leading up to migration. These physiological changes include putting on fat in preparation for departure. Photoperiod, temperature, nutrition and hormonal changes are some triggers for zugunruhe.

As the days get longer and warmer, we are anxious to be out and about more. A kind of human zugunruhe?

This golden-crowned sparrow was photographed near the overflow where Crystal Lake joins Baum Lake (Shasta County CA).



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